I had just snagged my first Capricornia (Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone areas) Under 15 schoolboys Australian Rules coaching role in Mackay during the year 2000.
Previously I had coached the Capricornia region Open Boys Basketball team to a couple of runner’s up medals, but not much else. Australian Rules coaching was what I wanted to try my hand at.
We traveled from Mackay to Brisbane for the carnival and the team was undefeated by the second day, having upset one of the more fancied Brisbane Metropolitan teams (Met West). One of my best mates at the time, Steve, was my manager and we found this coaching and managing gig quite the breeze.
All players at the carnival received tickets to the Brisbane Lions v Richmond game at the ‘Gabba Saturday night and I was able to pass the team onto Steve to look after and I got to sit with my Dad and brother in their membership ticket seats.
Then, the phone rang.
“Russ, my waters have broken.”
“You’re two weeks early?”
“Russ, my waters have broken. You need to come home.”
By the end of the Lions game, I had booked 2 plane tickets back to Mackay (Mum was coming with me), the Lions lost 17.9.111 to 14.15.99 and I ended up missing the rest of the carnival (we did not win another game).
I made it to the hospital with 10 minutes to spare and my first son was born.
He is turning 21 this May.
As his parents, we could not be prouder of him. As the eldest of our three sons and the first born, the weight of responsibility and expectation has always fallen on him. He was the first grandson and nephew for my side of the family. He was indulged beyond comprehension at times and reveled in the attention this afforded him.
He followed us as we moved from Mackay to Brisbane to Alice Springs and now settled on the Sunshine Coast. He has two teachers as parents, but we never pushed him beyond what he was capable at school. He was an above average student, but school was never his “thing.”
Sport was. His athletic ability was profound. Yet, have some sort of ball in the vicinity and his speed and skill always seemed to stand out. For the 4 or 5 ball sports he showed considerable ability in, it was soccer (football) where this ability shone the most. I saw plenty of defenders able to cut him down and better him for skill, but I really don’t remember many that could match his speed.
Unfortunately, in his first year out of high school, this led to being cut down by an opposition player and suffering a broken leg, which followed with two major infections and 14 operations to repair the damage. This June he is coming up on 3 years since that fateful day, but he is creeping ever closer to the comeback we all look forward to being a part of.
He has never harboured ill will towards the player who set this long process in motion. Forgiveness may be forthcoming or been afforded, but it was never mine to give, but his.
We have cried.
We have sat in hospital wards and said nothing but stare blankly at the world around us.
We have taken lids off numerous hospital meals and subsequently skipped meals.
As a consequence, we have spent a lot of time together we may not normally have spent as father and son in those 17-21 year old years.
I think his 21st will be a good time to finally move on from this time in his life and look forward to the next chapters.
The chapter on “the comeback” will be a joyous, tearful day of celebration.
But there will be chapters on how through this long drawn out episode he discovered the love of his family, the love of a wonderful girlfriend who stuck by him, the love of study and the desire to help others by now becoming a nurse.
And I am sure that he would say that he has, as we all have, discovered and encountered the love of a God who at times felt so far way and distant, yet, so close, intimate and so very real in the dark times of the soul.
As he turns 21, I can reminisce as we look through photo albums of memories over the past 21 years. From tantrums to dress ups, firsts and embarrassing poses, it has been 21 years where we can see the goodness of God right from the very beginning.
I know whatever happens, God’s goodness will continue. And now my son has become MY hero and my mate.
My eldest son whom I love.
Russell Modlin is in his 30th year as a Secondary English and Physical Education Teacher. He has taught in Mackay, Brisbane, Alice Springs and currently on the Sunshine Coast. He is married to Belinda (26 years) and they have three sons- 2 have finished High School, 1 to go!
Russell Modlin’s archive of previous article can be found atwww.pressserviceinternational.org/russell-modlin.html